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Charities feel the grip of tough economy

by F.T. Norton
Nevada Appeal Staff Writer
Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal
NEVADA APPEAL | NEVADA APPEAL

When the Salvation Army placed an ad for bell ringers to collect donations outside Carson City stores this holiday season, the response was overwhelming. People who were unemployed or struggling to make ends meet in the tough economy came looking for work, said Capt. Erica Helton of the Salvation Army.

“It just speaks to the fact that people are in desperate times,” she said. “They are looking for work wherever they can find it.”

The Salvation Army, along with most of Carson City’s charitable organizations, has seen a dramatic increase in the number of people needing help this holiday season.

Requests for toys during their giveaway, set for Thursday, has nearly doubled.

“Last year we served 280 families and this year we’re at 450 families,” she said Friday, noting the totals did not include those who called up on the last day to register.

Unfortunately, said Helton, donations have seen a sharp decrease.

“I don’t know of any agency here in town that will tell you there’s not a great need,” she said. “Everyone seems to qualify these days with the current economy. It’s just the reality of the times as we see it.

“There are more people this year trying to figure out how to provide Christmas ” even the basic meal ” for their family this year.”

The Ron Wood Family Resource Center has noticed a drop in donations while seeing an increase in need.

“The number of people coming in our center has just exploded in everything from the food bank to WIC services, to information and referrals for things such as rent assistance, utilities, prescriptions and the need for bus passes,” said Joyce Buckingham, Ron Wood director. “Everything is through the roof.”

Buckingham said that her office has a list of 900 families, which equates to about 3,500 children, who will benefit from the Toys for Tots toy drive this holiday season.

Another 500 children have been referred to Ron Wood via the foster care system and the Washoe Tribe.

“We know we’re going to hit 1,000 families this year,” she said.

Last year’s numbers were about 500 families, but Buckingham said part of that lower number came because a well-publicized fire destroyed toys inside a storage unit for the Toys for Tots program.

This year, those that didn’t use the program last year have returned, as have an additional 30 percent, said Buckingham.

Families seeking help through the center’s food bank have also increased.

“About 35 percent more people are coming and asking for help in feeding their families,” she said. “We’re probably going to touch, talk to and see about 5,000 people in the center this month not related to Toys for Tots, just for general needs. Just for survival.”

But the spirit of giving hasn’t subsided, said Helton. More people are volunteering their time, she said.

At the KTVN Advocates to End Domestic Violence food drive at the Governor’s Mansion on Friday, Neda Iranpour of KTVN said that by 3:30 p.m. ” more than two hours before they would stop collecting donations ” they had met last year’s total donations.

“When we came into this we weren’t expecting to even do as good, only because of the way times are,” she said.

One of the people who stopped by the fundraiser rode up on his bicycle and donated the contents of his pantry, Iranpour said.

“He emptied out his house. He can’t afford a car, but he can afford to give,” she said. “For as much as people are hurting, they’re trying their hardest to help.”

– Contact reporter F.T. Norton at ftnorton@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1213.